The original Bill’s opened in Lewes, East Sussex in 2001; it’s expanded rapidly since being acquired by the Côte chain in 2008 and now has branches in student-heavy towns such as Brighton and Cambridge, as well as London and more on the way. The appeal of the formula – old-fashioned deli meets country-style café/restaurant – is obvious, and women, in particular, seem to like the place, but there’s definitely a corporate whiff to the operation. Chunky tables and school chairs, metal shelving full of Bill’s own-label jams, chutneys and oils (for sale, of course), and hanging garlands of dried chillies and colourful tissue paper – all seem to have been ordered from Retro Design Inc. Still, the effect is vibrant and homely, aided by a funk-soul soundtrack and chummy staff. Come for breakfast (eggs benedict, porridge with banana and honey), lunch or dinner, or pop in for tea and a scone. Just don’t expect too much. Pea and bean risotto was bland, soggy and could have been bettered by a competent home cook; a ‘tart’ of slow-roast plum tomato and artichoke wasn’t the cooked quiche we were expecting, merely a pile of (average) ingredients atop a pastry rectangle. And a tin pot of skinny fries was meanly portioned. We do like the old-fashioned enamel teapots, though.